‘Five Years Too Many’

FYTM-Logo-Horizontal-Color-72ppi‘For five years, seven Baha’i leaders have been wrongly imprisoned in Iran. Their 20-year sentences are the longest given to any current prisoners of conscience in Iran. Their harshness reflects the Government’s resolve to oppress completely the Iranian Baha’i community, which faces a systematic, “cradle-to-grave” persecution that is among the most serious examples of state-sponsored religious persecution in the world today’.

http://www.bic.org/fiveyears/

Five Year Sentence For Educating Students In Iran

Seven Baha'i Educators Sentenced In Iran

I am saddened to hear from BWNS that seven innocent members of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) detained for several months in Iran have just been sentenced to four or five year prison sentences by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Vahid Mahmoudi, Kamran Mortezaie, Ramin Zibaie, Mahmoud Badavam, Farhad Sedghi,  Riaz Sobhani and  Nooshin Khadem were helping to provide educational courses to Baha’i youth prevented from entering higher education due to their membership of the Baha’i Faith.

Death Sentence For Changing Religion In Iran

Youcef Nadarkhani and family

I am saddened by the continuing persecution of Christians in Iran.

The Baha’i International Community has joined the call for the release of Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor from Rasht, Iran. Pastor Nadarkhani, who is the father of two young children, leads a network of house churches. He was found guilty of apostasy – “turning his back on Islam” – and “converting Muslims to Christianity,” and sentenced to death in September 2010. Iran’s Supreme Court recently asked for a re-examination of the case to establish whether or not he had been a practising Muslim adult before he converted to Christianity. The court ruled he was not but, nevertheless, is still guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. The case has sparked strong condemnation from governments, organizations and religious leaders around the world.

Source: http://news.bahai.org/story/855

Rio Religious Freedom Walk

Religious Freedom Walk, Rio 18.9.11

I am really impressed by the solidarity shown by Brazillians of all backgrounds with the oppressed Baha’i community in Iran.

The ongoing persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community featured prominently as 25,000 people from Brazil’s diverse traditions marched to defend the right to religious freedom and call for justice.Established in 2008 by Rio’s Committee for Combating Religious Intolerance (CCIR), the Religious Freedom Walk initially aimed to call attention to the prejudice faced in Brazil by followers of traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Since then, the march has become an annual event, growing from 2,000 participants at the first rally to this year’s record figure. Yesterday, Afro-Brazilian religious leaders were joined by Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Buddhists and Baha’is, all united in their aim to draw attention to intolerance.
Baha’is distributed 1,000 yellow vests bearing the slogan, “Today, we are followers of all religions” – a sentiment that was happily worn by participants from the different communities.

Source: http://news.bahai.org/story/850

Human Rights Lawyer Detained In Iran

Abdolfattah Soltani

I am very concerned about the recent detention of Abdolfattah Soltani – a leading human rights lawyer in Iran. Mr Soltani has been detained since the 10th September. He is part of a legal team defending a number of Baha’is on trial for providing higher education to their community. He is a brave defender of human rights in Iran and my best wishes and prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.

Denied Right To Burial As A Baha’i In Iran

In an outrageous new incident of religious discrimination, authorities in the city of Tabriz, Iran, have refused to allow Baha’is to bury a relative in accordance with Baha’i law – and instead have promised to entomb the deceased woman without a coffin under Muslim rites.  “To anyone who understands the culture of the Middle East, the idea that the government would force a family to bury their loved one according to the rites of another religion is beyond the pale,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. She noted that according to Baha’i rites of burial, the deceased must be interred in a coffin, whereas under Muslim law, no coffin is used.  “This incident demonstrates the almost unbelievable length to which Iranian authorities are willing to go to express their prejudice and animosity against Baha’is,” she said. The incident began on Monday when authorities in Tabriz told the family of Mrs. Fatemeh-Soltan Zaeri that they would be unable to bury her in the local cemetery according to Baha’i law. Instead, they said, she would have to be interred according to Muslim customs. The family objected, noting that the cemetery has always been accessible to members of all religions in the area to bury their dead as they wished. In response to this protest, authorities demanded that Mrs. Zaeri be buried without a coffin – and they withheld her body for 48 hours, preventing them from taking her body somewhere else. Yesterday, when the family member contacted cemetery authorities again, pleading that her body be released so they could bury her elsewhere, they were advised that she would be buried on Thursday anyway, without a coffin, in a Muslim ceremony – and that only her husband would be allowed to be present.

Source: BWNS

Iran- Where Education Is ‘Conspiracy’

The paranoid attitude of the Iranian authorities towards members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran is evident in the latest news reported by BWNS

Some nine weeks after they were arrested, 11 Iranian Baha’is – associated with an initiative offering higher education to young community members barred from university – are now reportedly facing charges. The Baha’i International Community has learned that, by establishing the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, the 11 are accused of “conspiracy against national security” and “conspiracy against the Islamic Republic of Iran.””What could possibly motivate the Islamic Republic to make such a charge?” asks Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.A widespread international outcry has followed the latest attack on the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), in which some 39 homes were raided at the end of May. Of the 19 BIHE staff or faculty members who were originally detained in connection with the raids, 11 remain in prison.

‘Today We Are All Baha’is’

I find the solidarity shown by Brazilian human rights supporters for Iran’s beleagured Baha’i community very moving.

Representatives from government, religious communities and civil society organizations were among the 800 human rights supporters who gathered to call upon Iran to cease its persecution of Baha’is and other religious minorities. Participants travelled from all over Brazil to take part in the rally, held at Rio’s Copacabana Beach yesterday, some spending up to 15 hours on buses to get there. Almost 8,000 images depicting the faces of Iran’s seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders were on display at the beach, corresponding to the number of days of detention the seven had suffered after three years in prison. The photographs were arranged in a large circle, representing the world, and the union of people of all races and nations. In his remarks, Brazilian congressman Chico Alencar set the tone for the day’s activities, saying, “Religious freedom is something that cannot be touched.” A Jewish participant, Natan Klabin, agreed. “We know well what it is to be persecuted because of one’s religion, and thus we know how important it is to show solidarity with other repressed minorities,” he said. Babalowa Ivanir dos Santos – representing the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomble – spoke of the persecution his community has often faced. “This is why we feel that we must protest against all kinds of religious intolerance. I hope one day we will no longer need to promote demonstrations like this one, in any country,” said Mr. Santos.One thousand yellow vests – printed with the phrases “Today we are all Baha’is” and “Free the 7 Baha’is imprisoned in Iran” – were distributed, along with leaflets about religious freedom. Musicians also contributed to the programme, performing songs on the themes of freedom and solidarity. Brazilian Baha’i Iradj Eghrari said that demonstrating solidarity among religions is essential to show the Iranian authorities that persecution is not only a matter of concern for Baha’is. “If a person does not demonstrate support towards persecuted religious minorities, he or she may well be the next victim of religious intolerance,” said Mr. Eghrari. The seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders were members of a national-level ad hoc group that helped attend to the needs of Iran’s 300,000-strong Baha’i community. After an illegal 30 month detention, they were tried on trumped-up charges and each sentenced in August 2010 to 20 years in jail.

Source: BWNS

Baha’is In Iran: Cultural Genocide

A poster published by human rights supporters depicting BIHE staff members detained in Iran

I am shocked by the campaign of cultural genocide pursued by Iranian authorities against the Baha’i community in Iran. The latest phase is an attempt to destroy community educational programmes set up because Baha’i youth are excluded from state-run institutions. BWNS reported on the 22nd May that

A coordinated series of raids have been carried out on the homes of several Iranian Baha’is, active in a community initiative to provide a higher education programme for young members who are barred from university. Initial reports indicate that raids took place yesterday on houses in Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Shiraz. As many as 30 people may already have been arrested…All of the targets were homes of individuals closely involved with the operations of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education…The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was established in 1987 as a community initiative to meet the educational needs of young Baha’is who have been systematically denied access to higher education by the Iranian government. The BIHE has been described by the New York Times as “an elaborate act of communal self-preservation.”

Source: http://news.bahai.org/story/825

Arrested For Helping Earthquake Victims

Iranian authorities have arrested a number of Baha’is who provided education to children in a region devastated by an earthquake seven years ago. The Baha’i International Community has so far been able to confirm the arrest of four Baha’is this month in connection with the provision of kindergarten-level education in Iran’s Kerman Province, south-east of Tehran. Two other Baha’is from the city of Kerman were also arrested on Sunday 13 March. Their involvement in education projects has not yet been confirmed. “More than 26,000 people died and one in five teachers in the city of Bam reportedly lost their lives in the 2003 earthquake,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “These Baha’is were offering a vitally needed service to children whose education system had been all but completely destroyed.” Last week, the Iran Student News Agency, reported that the prosecutor-general of the revolutionary court in Bam announced that a “number of Baha’is” had been arrested for “promoting their programs under the guise of kindergartens in Bam, Kerman and Tehran.” Mohammad Reza Sanjari claimed that Baha’is “took advantage” of the need for cultural, social and educational measures following the earthquake. “This latest round of arrests is yet another example of the widespread, and intensifying, religious persecution being carried out by Iran against its 300,000-strong Baha’i minority,” said Ms. Ala’i. “This and other recent actions suggest that the authorities will stop at nothing to keep Baha’is away from Muslims, even when the Baha’is are providing a service to those in their society in desperate need.”  Three Baha’is from Isfahan – including two 18 year olds – were also arrested earlier this month while teaching children.  They were subsequently released.  Some 79 Baha’is are currently being held in prison in Iran.

Source: BWNS

Brutal Conditions For Imprisoned Baha’is

I am saddened to hear more worrying news from Iran.

Iran’s seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders have been transferred to more brutal sections of their prison complex. In the case of the two Baha’i women, the circumstances of the move have raised concerns that it may have been orchestrated as a means of creating an insecure environment that threatens their lives. The Baha’i International Community has learned that one of them – Fariba Kamalabadi – has already been physically threatened by inmates since being sent to the notorious Section 200 of Gohardasht Prison.”Apparently, the atmosphere is highly charged in this section, and there is a great deal of tension and animosity among the inmates,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. Mrs. Kamalabadi was transferred to Section 200 on Saturday 12 February, along with Mahvash Sabet.”It is difficult to be certain about the reason for the move,” said Ms. Dugal. “However we believe that, since their arrival at Gohardasht, the Baha’i women – despite their own extremely challenging situation – have nonetheless been a constant source of comfort and hope to other inmates. The prison authorities apparently became alarmed that the two women began to receive signs of respect from a growing number of prisoners. As a justification for the increased harsh treatment, the authorities accused the two of teaching the Baha’i Faith.”

Source: BWNS

HRW World Report 2011 Cites Human Rights Abuse In Iran

I have just read the Human Rights Watch World Report 2011 and it paints a bleak picture of the situation in Iran.

The government denies adherents of the Baha’i faith–Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority–freedom of religion. In August the judiciary convicted seven leaders of the national Baha’i organization to 20 years each in prison; their sentences were later reduced to 10 years each. The government accused them of espionage without providing evidence and denied their lawyers’ requests to conduct a prompt and fair trial. Iranian laws continue to discriminate against religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, in employment and education. Sunni Muslims, about 10 percent of the population, cannot construct mosques in major cities. In 2010, security forces detained several members of Iran’s largest Sufi sect, the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, and attacked their houses of worship. They similarly targeted converts to Christianity for questioning and arrest. The government restricts cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, and Arab minorities, including the  organizations that focus on social issues. Sexual minorities also face a precarious situation. Law enforcement and judiciary officials discriminate, both in law and in practice, against Iran’s vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Iran’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex acts, some of which are punishable by death. During the past few years, a steady stream of LGBT Iranians has sought  refugee status in Turkey and are awaiting resettlement in third countries.

Source: Human Rights Watch

UN Condemns Human Rights Abuse In Iran

In December the United Nations once more condemned human right abuses in Iran.

By a vote of 78 to 45, with 59 abstentions, the UN General Assembly confirmed a resolution that expressed “deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations.” In more than two decades of such resolutions about Iran, the vote passed with one of the highest percentages ever. The resolution specifically expressed concern over Iran’s “intensified crackdown on human rights defenders and reports of excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, unfair trials and allegations of torture,” as well as its “pervasive gender inequality and violence against women,” and its discrimination against minorities, including members of the Baha’i Faith. “The world community has clearly spoken. It is outraged at Iran’s continued and intensifying violations of human rights,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. Welcoming the result Ms. Dugal noted that the resolution documents a wide range of violations, from torture to the oppression of women to the persecution of minorities. “All of this has been going on for too long, and it is high time that Iran pays heed to the call of the international community and complies with the standards of international law,” she said. The resolution devoted an entire paragraph to Iran’s treatment of members of the Baha’i Faith, cataloging an extensive list of recent anti-Baha’i activities. These included: “increasing evidence of efforts by the State to identify, monitor and arbitrarily detain Baha’is, preventing members of the Baha’i faith from attending university and from sustaining themselves economically, the confiscation and destruction of their property, and the vandalizing of their cemeteries…” It also expressed concern over the recent trial and sentencing of seven Baha’i leaders, saying they were “repeatedly denied the due process of law.”

Source: BWNS

A Lesser Mentioned Human Right…

According to official figures the unemployment rate in the United Kingdom for the three months to October 2010 was 7.9 per cent, up 0.1 on the quarter. In my view unemployment is a key economic issue of today. To be employed has an obvious material benefit but is an important part of spiritual well-being as well. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá equated work with worship saying

‘Man must work with his fellows. Everyone should have some trade, or art or profession, be he rich or poor, and with this he must serve humanity. This service is acceptable as the highest form of worship.”

We seem to have constructed an economic system which actively destroys jobs in a quest for  higher profits and lost sight of the ideal of full employment set out in  ‘The Universal Declaration Of  Human Rights‘ –

Article 23.

* (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
* (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
* (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
* (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

* Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
* (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Jailed For Helping Underprivileged Children

Haleh Rouhi, Sasan Taqva and Raha Sabet, taken into custody on 19 November 2007. They are beginning the final year of a four-year sentence, handed down for their participation in an education program for underprivileged children in and around the city of Shiraz.

Despite compelling evidence that they never committed a crime, three Iranian Baha’is today begin their fourth year in captivity.The two women, Haleh Rouhi and Raha Sabet – and Mr. Sasan Taqva – were arrested in May 2006, along with some 51 other Baha’is and a number of Muslim friends, for their participation in an education program for underprivileged children in and around the city of Shiraz. While their 10 Muslim co-workers and one Baha’i with learning difficulties were released immediately, the remaining Baha’is were convicted of “indirect teaching of the Baha’i Faith.” Ms. Rouhi, Ms. Sabet and Mr. Taqva received four year jail terms. The other 50 were given one year sentences, suspended pending their attendance at mandatory Islamic classes. It is believed that today, after three years, they continue to be held under the harshest of conditions in a temporary detention center.

Source: BWNS

Legal Experts Question Iran Baha’i Judgement

Not surprisingly experts have questioned the legality of the recent judgement against innocent members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran.

On 8 August it was reported that seven Iranian citizens – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Vahid Tizfahm and Mahvash Sabet – had been sentenced to 20 years in prison. These sentences have since been reduced to 10 years. The seven previously constituted the informal leadership of the Bahá’í faith in Iran and their case has attracted international attention. We write to express our serious concerns about questions of due process that have arisen since their arrest in 2008 and throughout their detention, trial and sentencing.

We understand that the seven were detained without a writ being addressed to them. They were then held in solitary confinement for between 105 and 175 days. These prolonged detentions, prior to any trial, are unacceptable by any standard of due process. At the trial the charges included “spreading corruption on earth”, “propaganda against the Islamic order”, and “espionage, co-operation with Israel”. We understand no evidence was produced to support these charges, and that no written verdicts have been delivered. The seven are reported to have had one hour of time with their legal representatives. The charges and the sentences appear to be motivated solely by the fact that they are members of the Bahá’í faith. We urge the authorities to respect Iran’s obligations under international law and, moreover, that Iran conducts the subsequent appeal of the seven in accordance with these obligations as well as its own laws.

Rosalyn Higgins QC Former international judge

Linda Lee President, Law Society

Mark Muller QC Chairman, Bar human rights committee

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/09/questions-over-iran-bahai-trial

‘Conscience And The Spirit’

The founder of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania Ferenc Dávid (1510 – 15 November 1579) is quoted as saying

There is no greater mindlessness and absurdity than to force conscience and the spirit with external power, when only their creator has authority for them.

These words seem particularly apt when applied to the situation of the Baha’is in Iran who are being cruelly persecuted for their beliefs. What is the point in using physical power to force outward conformity when ultimately it is a spiritual matter between an individual’s conscience and God?

‘The Spirit Of Cyrus’

I am interested to learn that an ancient treasure the Cyrus Cylinder is to be loaned to Iran from the British Museum.  It has been seen by some scholars as a kind of proto-declaration of human rights. If this is the case then hopefully some of this spirit will touch the Iranian authorities and they will allow the Baha’i Community to practice their faith in peace.